Lady Justice: and a Conversation about Women’s Fight for Democracy and the Work of Tikkun Olam
By Shelley Birenbaum
On Wednesday, January 18, the Women’s Advocacy Group was honoured to welcome Dahlia Lithwick, in conversation with Rabbi Yael Splansky and the Honourable Justice Rosalie Abella. The Mishkan was full and the event was livestreamed to more than one hundred others.
Dahlia Lithwick, a Canadian-American lawyer, award-winning journalist, author, and podcast host, discussed her 2022 New York Times bestseller, Lady Justice – Women, The Law, and the Battle to Save America. Lady Justice celebrates the tireless efforts, legal ingenuity, and indefatigable spirit of women lawyers fighting injustices across the US and seeking social justice.
In the wake of a barrage of assaults on the fundamental tenets of democracy in the United States, from the ban on immigrants from Muslim countries to the reversal of Roe v. Wade and abortion rights for women to interfering with the voting rights of U.S. citizens, Dahlia highlighted the depth of commitment and courage of women lawyers to protect equality and democratic rights for all. Dahlia highlighted the work of Sally Yates, the acting attorney general of the United States, who refused to sign off on the Muslim travel ban, Roberta Kaplan, who sued the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville and Stacey Abrams, whose efforts protected the voting rights of millions of Georgians. Her message was clear – it is up to each of us to ensure that democratic rights are protected – we cannot rely on the other – it is an obligation that each of us carries, to repair the world. She believes that women have a special approach that fosters the protections of the law.
The Honourable Justice Rosalie Abella, who was appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada in 2004 and recently retired in 2021, reminded the audience of some of the key differences between Canada and the US legal systems, including the independence of the judiciary in Canada as opposed to the election of judges in the United States. She spoke to the need for an ethos of democracy. For example, what Hitler did was permissible at law (he changed the law to permit discrimination against Jews and other groups). It is not a question of merely respecting the rule of law, but rather ensuring that the law continues to reflect and protect democratic principles and the progress made to date in recognizing and respecting the equality, autonomy, and diversity of all people.
Rabbi Yael Splansky hosted the conversation with insightful questions, and her teaching and words from Rabbi Joshua Heschel encouraged the panel and audience to think about the balance of justice with love, and love with justice. The panellists noted that law is both the cause of and potential solution to, many problems. The law must reflect a commitment to democracy, moral behaviour and respect for the autonomy and diversity of all individuals. Each of us must do what we can to protect the rights and freedoms of others – to participate in tikkun olam.
This event was generously sponsored by The Women of Holy Blossom. If you would like to view the event, the recording can be found here.